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Be an influencer, like the five people you meet in heaven

January 28, 2015

In 1967, the sociologist Stanley Milgram introduced the notion of It’s a small world, according to which everyone in the world can be reached through a short chain of social acquaintances. John Gaure adopted this notion in Six Degrees of Separation, raising the issue into everyday awareness that we all know each other through just personal inter-connections through six people.

Whether this is true or not is inconsequential, what is fascinating is how easily and quickly we find things in common with each other. No man is an island, indeed the world becomes smaller and more interconnected everyday with the advances of technology.

Notwithstanding the efficiency and effectiveness of technology, the best path between yourself and another person is a direct conversation, where emotion, inflection and intent cannot be misunderstood. Face to face conversations enable sentiment context and body language to interplay with language, creating a much richer, personal and sincere dialogue.

In today’s digital world, the ‘people’ element of conversations – personality, purpose and passion, is, I feel, being diluted by the very essence of technology – ‘big data’ and ‘connected devices’, I wonder if we’re losing sight of meaning, context and intent, lost in the rush to apparent technology driven elegance and possibility? Milgram’s and Gaure’s theorems have no validity in today’s digital domain.

For me, this is manifested clearly in e-books. Whilst I’ve appreciated my Kindle for five years, just recently I’ve taken to buying paper based books again, and in fact bought some of my favourites books in physical format although I have them on my Kindle – and gave my original paper copy to the RSPCA charity shop several years ago! I’ve stepped back to enjoy the authenticity and tactile attraction of holding a book and turning the paper pages – it’s like the lost art and craft of album covers, digital downloads are great, but the album cover was part of the purchase and enjoyment.

But back to books. The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a novel by Mitch Albom published in 2003 and is on my top-ten booklist. It follows the life and death of a maintenance man named Eddie, who in a heroic attempt to save a little girl from being killed by an amusement park ride, is killed and sent to heaven. There he encounters five people who significantly impacted and influenced him while he was alive.

It’s a beautifully crafted story. Eddie is a grizzled war veteran who feels trapped in a meaningless life of fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. As the park has changed over the years, so too has Eddie, from optimistic youth to embittered old age. His days are a dull routine of work, loneliness, and regret.

Then, on his 83rd birthday, Eddie dies in a tragic accident, trying to save a little girl from a falling fairground ride cart. With his final breath, he feels two small hands in his – and then nothing. He awakens in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a lush Garden of Eden, but a place where your earthly life is explained to you by five people who were in it. These people may have been loved ones or distant strangers, yet each of them changed your path forever.

One by one, Eddie’s five people illuminate the unseen connections of his life. As the story builds to its conclusion, Eddie desperately seeks redemption in the still-unknown last act of his life: Was it a heroic success or a devastating failure for the little girl he reached out to in the accident?

It is an astoundingly original story that will intrigue you, and change everything you’ve ever thought about the afterlife and the meaning of our lives here on earth. Albom has said that the book was inspired by his real life uncle, Eddie Beitchman, who, like the character, who was also a World War II veteran, who also died at 83, and also lived a life like that of the fictional character, rarely leaving his home city, and often feeling that he didn’t accomplish what he should have.

In the book, and awakening after a black out, Eddie finds himself uninjured and realises that he feels young and much more energetic. He meets a man known simply as ‘the Blue Man’. Through their conversation, Eddie finds out that he is in fact dead, and embarks on a journey through five levels of Heaven, at each step meeting another person who has significantly influence his life, or he had done so to theirs.

Through his journey, Eddie learns something about life from each of them:

The Blue Man: Everything happens for a reason. There are no random events in life. All lives and experiences are interconnected in some way, and even the little things you do can affect other people’s lives and experiences dramatically.

The Captain: Sacrifices are a part of life. Everyone makes these sacrifices. Some sacrifices are big, and others are day-to-day small sacrifices, but they all make an impact in other people’s lives.

Ruby: The importance of releasing anger and granting forgiveness. There is always more than one side to a story.

Marguerite The power of love, even after death. There are multiple forms of love, some stronger than others. Lost love is the strongest kind of love, the kind that can be felt even across enormous distances.

Tala: There’s always a purpose for your life. You live for a reason the same way that people die for a reason. Where you are today is a combination of all your past actions, decisions, and the way the people around you have affected you.

It’s a thoughtful story, fills you with both maudlin and inspired thoughts about your own life experiences, but just imagine if you did meet five people in heaven, who would they be if you could chose them? I reckon mine would be mathematician Isaac Newton, musician Ian Curtis, explorer Ernest Shackleton, radical leader Joan of Arc, and the virtuoso Steve Jobs.

But hang on, just imagine if you could meet five people face to face whilst your heart is still beating, brain still alert, still got your own teeth and hair, and talk to them today. Who are you most influenced by, and why? Here’s my five influencers:

John Lydon I’d be a bit nervous about meeting John because he is quirky, enigmatic and a forceful character. Read his book Anger is an Energy. A loud and disruptive personality, but a disruptive thinker with an intellect too. I suspect that when you did meet him he would be really down to earth, and he would love to talk about everything and we’d have a good natter that would just be inspiring, controversial and highly amusing with his animated opinions.

Malcolm Gladwell Malcolm has written a number of thought-provoking books in recent years, covering a range of social and economic matters in a research led but readable style, bringing insights and comment that lend themselves to debate and challenge. His curiosity and ‘thinking outloud’ on the page are stimulating and thought provoking in the extreme.

Jonny Ive Jonny is the English born Director of Design at Apple, a man responsible for many of the look, feel and features of everyday technology devices we take for granted. It would be a fascinating conversation about design, innovation and marketing, you’d be buzzing at the end of a chat with Jonny.

Richie McCaw The talismanic All Blacks captain who’s led the team to unheralded success as 2013 World Champions and a record of just one defeat in their last 54 matches in the last 24 months. Check out Legacy, by James Kerr, a book about the current All Blacks team, and then sit and chat to Richie about vision, passion and success – what does being a World Champion feel like?

Stephen Fry Stephen has been my favourite raconteur since the 1980s, and I reckon sharing a cup of coffee with him would be a hoot from the first to last minute. I’d be able to act the goat and playback some of his sketches with him, and at the same time, learn so much from the richness of his own life experience and depth of knowledge. His ability and craftsmanship with words is, I think, unique.

So there you go, from the five people I’d like to meet in heaven to five people to sit down and chat and indulge yourself in their world, both sets of inspirational, remarkable people who have had an influence upon me from afar.

So what makes these people important to me, why are they influencers, whose deeds, actions and words I admire, and want to learn from? What are the traits that make them attractive people to me, and what can we take to become influencers, opinion shapers ourselves such that we can craft a meaningful living in a chosen domain? Here are my thoughts:

Passion – have a clear purpose Each of my five has a passion and a meaningful purpose to their chosen career, achievements and success. They’ve had a clear focus, been driven and, I suspect, relentless in the pursuit of a purpose driven by their passion. What are you famous for?

10,000 hours working in your area In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that you need 10,000 hours to get good at anything. This is another way to look at where you may have influence. What subject has engrossed you over the last decade to the point that you’ve invested 10,000 hours in becoming knowledgeable? The answer may surprise you.

Do research in your area and own the data Another strategy that many forget is doing research or surveys with their aspirational audience. With so many free survey tools available it’s a huge waste of opportunity not to start gathering data about your industry and market, keeping yourself up to date on thinking, and also relevance with emerging trends and intelligence.

Harness the zeitgeist In an environment when almost everyone has their social network attached to their hip at all times, everyone can curate content and become a broadcaster. None of this would have been possible ten years ago. We know what each of my five dead and five alive stand for, so curate your own authentic identity.

Find your voice While finding your voice may take some time, it will eventually happen. If you’re unsure on how to find a tone of voice, look at Ted Talks and get comfortable with your own style. In business terms, this is an opportunity to connect and converse with, not at your customers. Be curious, educate, and share, reflect, listen and learn – this makes you an influencer by creating clear calls to action.

Create content. Once you’ve found your voice, now is the time to create your own signature, original shareable material. If you’re like me you’ll get your best ideas when not at your desk – you’re walking, taking a shower or playing with your dog. You don’t always need to be profound but you do need to say something meaningful or helpful for others.

Own the keywords in your area of expertise Develop your own vocabulary around your field of expertise. Pick a handful of keywords that you will own. When people see a blog, webinar or social media piece from you, they will recognise you as the author from the lexicography you use.

Participate in influencer projects There is a trend that includes creating communities of trusted advisors, if you see events or projects like this relevant to your expertise, nominate yourself and work to promote progress in the project – the open source ethos. Each of these projects creates a living knowledge base and connections of like-minded individuals.

Help others succeed – give some stuff away for free This is more of a personal view that goes with every strategy I develop. I take a very socialist view on knowledge, ideas and experience – use enough of yourself to make a living that provides for you and your family, but then put something back for others. Ultimately we’re all citizens and sharing for free is both an altruistic and socially responsible thing to do. Giving your time to help others, is all part of being an authentic influencer.

Becoming an authority, expert or influencer is all within your control. Focus on where you spend the most time, effort and have skills and share it consistently and persistently – and check out Mitch Albom’s book, it will make you think!




One Comment leave one →
  1. January 29, 2015 9:30 am

    Really liked reading this post. In all your posts you offer a unique and holistic perspective on life and work. The concept of the book seems very interesting. Thinking consciously on these lines can help in charting out the way one wants to live his/ her life.

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